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Sapphire Varieties

Unique Sapphires & Rare Colors

Lime green, magenta, orange, brown, cognac, violet and all colors in between, are classified as rare and unique sapphire colors. Paradoxically, these rainbow-colored gems are necessarily expensive although they are often one of a kind. Market demand for these gemstones is driven by collectors who purchase them for their individuality and personality.

Purple, Lavender, and Violet Sapphires

The varying shades of purple sapphires

The colors purple and violet are often confused, but are actually distinct hues. Purple is a blended hue: red with a mixture of blue. Violet, on the other hand, is a blend of blue with purple. These colors may be considered more obscure due to the availability of other purple and violet gemstones. However, sapphires are far more durable and brilliant than other stones of the same color. Experienced jewelers and gemologists can distinguish sapphire from amethyst by luster alone. The color of violet and purple sapphire is much more stable under normal conditions. An amethyst’s color is sensitive to heat and light.

Many purple and violet sapphires show subtle shifts in color under different kinds of lighting. They will appear violet under daylight or fluorescent lighting, and distinctly purple under incandescent lights. These “color-shift” (as opposed to “color-change” – see below) sapphires are popular with gem connoisseurs, who will pay premiums for stones with strong to vivid saturation and a conspicuous color-shift.

Purple and violet sapphires come from Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Myanmar.

Green Sapphires

A cushion cut natural green sapphire

Green is a rare color for sapphire. Supplies may be limited, but green sapphire is virtually unknown to the public, so demand has not driven prices to the same heights as pink or yellow sapphire.

Naturally, colored green sapphires range from light yellow-green, through medium yellowish green (“olive” or “leaf” green) to blue-greens that seem to capture the moody color of the ocean. Color saturation does not play much of a role in the pricing of these stones. In short, green sapphires are more likely to resemble peridot or tourmaline than emerald. Be that as it may, green sapphires have a beauty all their own. They are far more brilliant than emerald, and much harder and more durable than either peridot or tourmaline.

Green sapphire is uncommon, but it is also comparatively inexpensive, so fine stones are expected to be eye-clean. Lighter colored yellowish green sapphires show inclusions very easily, so clarity in these stones is especially important.

Green sapphires are generally found wherever blue and yellow sapphires occur together. They are found in Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Australia, Madagascar, and Montana (USA).

White Sapphires

A princess cut and a round white sapphire

White sapphire, also known as “leucosapphire,” is not really white at all, but transparent and colorless. It is also the purest and rarest form of corundum, since it lacks the trace elements that color other sapphires. Although white sapphire is rare, it is an inexpensive gem with smaller demand. It is often used as a diamond substitute.

Because color is not a factor in the value of a white sapphire, clarity is absolutely critical to the stone’s status as a gem. Visible inclusions diminish the value of white sapphires far more than they would in colored stones.

White sapphires are found in all sizes, but the larger the stone, the less likely that it will be entirely colorless. Therefore, small white sapphires are more common in the marketplace than large ones.

White sapphires can occur in almost any corundum deposit, but gem-quality stones are exceedingly rare.

Color-Change Sapphires

A unique color change oval sapphire

Many sapphires shift color between purple and violet under different lighting conditions, but a few rare and exceptional sapphires change color dramatically–from grayish or greenish blue in daylight or fluorescent lighting to brownish red in incandescent light. The color-change phenomenon rarely alternates between bold or saturated hues but it makes these stones prized items for gem connoisseurs. Their value is based less upon how attractive their alternating colors are, and more on how dramatic and complete the change of color is. The most valuable stones are those that change from bluish green with no trace of brown to brownish red without a trace of blue or green.

For color-change sapphires, clarity is far less important than the degree of color-change. Eye-clean stones are extremely rare, and most collectors are content with slightly included color-change gems.

Color-change sapphires are usually small, and because rough is rare, they are not normally supplied in calibrated sizes. Color-change sapphires are found almost exclusively in Madagascar and Africa in very small quantities.

Orange Sapphires

An oval orange sapphire

Orange sapphire was once an obscure and undervalued gem, but this is no longer the case. With orange’s arrival as an important fashion color, gems such as spessartite garnet, imperial topaz, and orange sapphire have gained popularity.

Orange sapphires range from light pastel oranges to vivid reddish oranges. As a blend of red and yellow hues, orange sapphires may be colored by a combination of chromium (red) and iron (yellow) trace elements, or by exposure to natural radiation. Orange sapphires whose color stems from natural radiation may fade on exposure to heat or intense daylight.

Orange sapphires with pleasing color are rare in any size, so stones that are slightly or moderately included are still valuable gems. Orange sapphires are not mined in great quantities, so stones are not usually cut to standard sizes or proportions.

Orange sapphires are found in Australia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Kenya, and Madagascar.

Cognac and Brown Sapphires

A round natural cognac sapphire

Until recently, brown sapphires were not considered to be gem-quality stones. Jewelry designers have discovered the suave beauty of sapphires in shades of honey brown, terra cotta, and cognac. Their warm, earthy colors complement many wardrobes and are especially appealing to men, who are now wearing more jewelry than the customary tie tack and cufflinks. The newfound popularity of brown sapphires is due to the growing popularity of fancy colored diamonds–called “cognac” in the industry–to which they offer an economical alternative.

Clarity is critical in brown sapphires. They must be eye-clean to have value. Any visible inclusion will cause a precipitous drop in the price of a brown sapphire.

Brown sapphires are found wherever corundum is mined, but comparatively few areas produce the clear, vividly saturated stones that qualify as gems. Quality brown sapphires are mined in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand, and Australia.

Read more about Sapphire Origins.

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